The Parliamentary recess is a symbol and a symptom of the overmanned and under achieving public sector. Some of my Labour colleagues will tell you that MPs have to work very hard in the recess â€“ they have to catch up with all the constituency business which the pressure of a Westminster session puts on hold. Donâ€™t you believe them. Any efficient MP can manage the constituency visits, cases and correspondence whilst also appearing regularly in Parliament. August and the first half of September are not ideal times for visits in the constituency. In my case there is no District General hospital within my boundaries, the schools are on summer holiday, and many businesses over August will be short of staff as they take their well deserved summer breaks. It is easier to keep up to date than to allow a backlog to develop that needs clearing in the recess.
I do plan to take some time off in August, but I think it is quite wrong that I am shut out from my main place of work and prevented from carrying out my main duties from July 22nd until October 6th! Thatâ€™s a massive 11 weeks. Why does the government want to keep Parliament out of action for so long?
Doubtless they see it as a chance to have some respite from questions, criticisms and debates which highlight mistakes and problems. As from yesterday MPs are prevented from tabling a subject for debate, from asking oral questions of Ministers in Question Times, from tabling questions for written answer, from tabling EDMs and signing them, from participating in a committee, from asking a Minister a question during a debate or making points in a debate. We will have eleven weeks with no Ministerial statements to Parliament explaining what they are doing or reporting on errors and difficulties, no time to examine the secondary legislation they will still be drafting and pushing through, and no time to raise matters of public concern.
For the government it is a chance to dominate the media by using their spin doctors each day to pump out a story or a stunt, uninterrupted by criticism or an alternative agenda from Parliament.
At the very least there should be a session at the start of September before the main political conferences. This need not be a legislative session, as we have quite enough new primary legislation and do not wish to encourage more. It could combine Question Times to Ministers, with Ministerial statements, and adjournment debates on topics that the government and the Opposition wish to raise. There need not be any votes, so MPs who wish to be away can stay on their fact finding travels or whatever else they are doing, whilst those of us who wish to hold the government to account have a Parliament in which to do it. Whilst we are about it, why not abolish the main conferences, which are outdated ideas, and ask each party to go over to a couple of long week-end conferences each year so people with jobs can attend without having to take a weekâ€™s holiday, and MPs could continue to do their job at Westminster.
Westminster is overstaffed and underemployed. It should meet more often to provide better value for money. It is entirely representative of Labourâ€™s wasteful public sector.